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ITA/ITALY 

The Italian women’s Volleyball team heads into the 2004 Olympic Games with aspirations of a podium finish. Following their triumph at the 2002 World Championship, big things have been expected from this entertaining side, however they have yet to rediscover the amazing form that took them to their first ever World Championship title.

That is a fact that was highlighted by the team ending the 2003 European Championships in Turkey in a lowly sixth position.A jump to fourth at the World Cup in Japan was considered an improvement on the road to recovery but they still have an awkward assignment ahead of them at the Athens Olympic Games.

In Italy no sport is played by as many women as Volleyball. The Federation has over 100,000 registered women players but the women’s national team has left a good deal to be desired,especially in its early days, when it rarely finished high in World Championships and even in the European Championship its best achievement was only a bronze in
1989.

At the turn of the millennium, however, things began to get better, as the team won bronze (1999) and silver (2001) in the European Championships, and hit the headlines by taking the World Championship title in Germany in 2002.

Despite the mixed fortunes immediately following their World Championship success, the Italians do have many qualities and are now ranked fourth in the world. Their most inspirational player Francesca Piccinini brings an air of solidarity and experience to the team, being one of five players with more than 200 international appearances to her name. The 26-year old’s combination with Simona Rinieri and Nadia Centoni will be exciting to watch while libero Paola Cardullo, at 162 cm, is seen as one of the most courageous and widely followed players on the international circuit. The rest of the squad compliment each other with passion, drive and a sure-fire spirit.

The Athens Games sees the Italian women making their second appearance at the Olympics after Sydney, where they
finished ninth. Eight players return from that venture for what will be a fascinating journey in the heat of battle in Athens.